In his halcyon days, Idriss Ali Nassah was a fierce social and political commentator, acerbic in vocabulary but measured in thought and analysis. It also helped that he edited a publication that supported the efforts of this newspaper in driving critical national discourse on all matters Democracy and Governance.
There could not be a better time to for media in Malawi to exude these fantastic qualities than at the present moment. Over 50 years into Independence, we are still the perfect stereotype of underdevelopment; poor health systems and infrastructure; virtually no reliable service delivery across the country; an ever-fragile economy; sub-standard education at both lower and higher levels; and so much less.
If Mr Nassah is right about one thing in his latest entry on this page then it is that Malawi can barely afford to move forward without changing its national psyche. The psychological damage that has been visited upon Malawians in the post-colonial era remains one of the most undocumented tragedies of our time. Far worse is what we have had to endure post-1994, when the damage retreated into subtlety but kept reinventing its devastating impact.
What we have clearly seen with our own eyes, however, is how ruling elites, taking turns to capture State power via “democratic” elections, have repeatedly raped the soul of this nation, taking unashamed turns at looting the national coffers while impoverishing millions of Malawians. In this regard, Mr Nassah is being rather dishonest when he suggests that what we have come to know as Cashgate, was a phenomenon peculiar to a single regime, that of former president, Dr Joyce Banda.
For someone writing against the backdrop of an African Union (AU) Summit, whose theme was on women’s empowerment, Mr Nassah should have been sensitive to the implications of his key message–that president Peter Mutharika is saving a country ruined by Banda.
This is not to absolve the Joyce Banda administration of any wrongdoing. Rather, it is to insist on truth, honesty and consistency in the types benchmarks we set for the leadership of this country. We simply cannot have rules for male leaders and rules for female leaders. Leaders must just lead and allow themselves to be held accountable against standards that reflect national hopes, dreams and aspirations, not gender.
Given our national demographics, in fact, it is the women of Malawi who have carried the heaviest burdens and single-handedly borne the brunt of leadership failures since time immemorial. Therefore, to ascribe collective national failure to a female presidency alone – as Mr Nassah does in his article –is not only frivolous but more insidiously, an unprecedented exhibition of male chauvinism.
The irony, quite remarkably, is inescapable.
Idriss Ali Nassah represents a generation of Malawians who are supposed to know better – university educated, holding senior management jobs, ambitious and visionary. It is this generation that is our best hope yet. Regrettably, in Mr Nassah’s article, an almost sycophantic tribute to president Mutharika, there is also the tragedy of seeing dazzling potential fizzle itself out in the overzealous service of political order.
This, of course, is not to deny Mr Nassah his agency or, for that matter, democratic choice. Rather, it is to sincerely demand more from him as a hard-working Malawian who has been fortunate enough to edit a newspaper in his country, obtain international higher education and work at international diplomatic and media institutions.
Having worked at the AU himself, Mr Nassah will know that what he gives president Mutharika credit for is actually norm and standard. Any single session occurring during an AU summit can pass as “crucial”. Fact. Mutharika was just doing what we, Malawians, expect him to do when he draws taxpayers’ money for such purposes.
Have we set the leadership bar so low that any little thing a leader does is worth many column inches of praise?
I was in Johannesburg, South Africa during the AU Summit. As opposed to seeking photo opportunities with presidents in the plush Sandton district, I went downtown to seek the views of ordinary Malawian. These are the remnants from the bus-loads you saw arriving in the country, voluntarily repatriated from South Africa in the aftermath of Afrophobic violence.
A Malawian barber I spoke with asked the most poignant question: “For how long are we going to be pushed out of Malawi, by poverty and lack of opportunity, to go and build other countries?”
There’s a marked difference between blame-games and historical reflection. If we are to substantively build this country for the next 50 years, we’ll need to do the latter. More importantly, we’ll have to do away with the self-hating and debilitating attitudesof turning a blind eye on Injustice.
Malawi is in desperate need of people who love her, sincerely.
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